Buddhist monks oppose Lankan government’s proposed 20A

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COLOMBO, Oct 17 (PTI): Three politically influential Buddhist monks have joined the voices opposing the Sri Lankan government’s proposed 20th Amendment to the Constitution that aims to bolster the powers of the president, demanding that 20A must be amended to retain the checks and balances of the presidency.

The three monks, who are allies of the ruling Sri Lanka People’s Party (SLPP), in a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Friday said that the proposed change to the constitution would weaken the position of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa as well as powers of the Cabinet ministers.

They said that the 20A must be amended so as to retain the checks and balances of the presidency.

The move comes days after two Buddhist sects -Amarapura and Ramanna- in a joint statement, said that the proposed 20A would destroy the independence of the judiciary, the public service, the system of elections while undermining the independence of Parliament and members of Parliament individually.

The sects asserted that what is needed now is not 20A to reverse the 2015 adopted 19A, but action to formulate a new Constitution by fixing any weaknesses in 19A.

The government on September 2 gazetted 20A, the new proposed legislation that would replace the 19th Amendment introduced in 2015 that curtailed the powers of the president and strengthened the role of Parliament.

The opposition from the monks, who are known supporters of the Rajapaksa brothers, has come ahead of next week’s parliament debate on the 20th Amendment.

The parliamentary speaker on October 20 will make the official announcement on the Supreme Court ruling on some 39 petitions, including one by the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), filed to verify the constitutionality of the amendment.

The two-day debate on the second reading of the bill is scheduled for October 21 and 22.

All petitions took the common ground that the 20A if enacted by repealing the 19A would impinge on the fundamental rights of the citizens.

The SJB said that the government had rejected their request to debate the amendment over 4 days.

The 20A is meant to annul the 19A which was seen as a pro-democracy, good governance amendment that called for checks and balances in the presidential system while making parliament more powerful.

The 20th Amendment proposes to restore full legal immunity to the president, removing the provisions made in the 19A to take legal action against the president.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected with a mandate to abolish the 19A.

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